Effect of Twitter’s Action on Prashant Bhushan’s Contempt Case

Must Read

The Right to Information and its Working of 15 years

On 12th October 2020, RTI finished fifteen years since its commencement. The question remains whether the legislation stands up to...

An Insight into Custodial Death in India

“The occurrence of Custodial deaths in the world’s greatest democracy has raised the eyebrows of every citizen and shaken...

Implications in Travel Insurance in Light of the COVID-19 Crisis

As the world, today is crippled by this once in a century pandemic and as of date more than...

Second-Round Effects of Rent Control Laws: The Argentine Case

Introduction In colonial India, a city had an issue with its cobra population, which was a problem clearly in need...

Why Are the Big Techs of Silicon Valley Accused of Anti-Competitive Behaviours?

The big tech giants of the Silicon Valley are facing major challenges with relation to their monopolistic powers after...

KSK announces Sanjay Kumar as a Partner for Pharma & Life Sciences Practice

New Partner for KSK's Pharma & Life Sciences Practice King Stubb & Kasiva recently announced that Mr Sanjay Kumar has...

Follow us

On 22nd July 2020, the Supreme Court of India suo moto initiated a contempt of court case against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter India. The proceedings were against Bhushan’s ‘two tweets’ dated 27th June 2020 and 29th June 2020. In these tweets, he questioned the working of the Supreme Court and criticized CJI Bobde. However, just two days after the first hearing, Twitter withheld or disabled the access to his tweets.

This piece of work seeks to analyze the effect of this step taken by Twitter.

The Case against Prashant Bhushan 

Advocate Prashant Bhushan in his tweet on 27th June 2020 criticized the Supreme Court of India, and highlighted the Court’s role in the destruction of Democracy during the last six years. He also mentioned the role of the preceding four CJI’s in this regard. Bhushan on 29th June, made another tweet questioning the CJI. This tweet was made a few days after CJI Bobde’s photograph riding a Harley Davidson went viral on the internet. He tweeted– 

“CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”

Advocate Mahek Maheshwari on 9th July 2020 filed a complaint against Bhushan before the Supreme Court. He requested the Court to start a criminal contempt proceeding against Adv. Bhushan and Twitter India. He further stated that the tweet was a “cheap publicity stunt” with an attempt to “spread hatred in the form of anti-India campaign.”

Based on the application filed, the Supreme Court on 22nd July suo moto registered a criminal contempt of court case against Bhushan. The bench of Supreme Court comprised of Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai, and Krishna Murari. The Court undertook proceedings as per section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The charge against him was that he allegedly scandalized the Court and brought disrepute to the administration of justice. 

The Case against Twitter 

Justice Mishra asked, “Why Twitter was waiting for a formal order of the Court to do so.”

The case against Twitter was for its failure to block the questioned tweets on its own after the contempt proceedings were initiated. Senior Adv. Sajan Poovayya appearing on behalf of Twitter India stated that Twitter has no intention of defending the tweets. He also said that Twitter would look into the matter and take necessary action.

Following this on 25th July 2020, Twitter withheld the two tweets of Adv. Bhushan dated 27th June and 29th June. After concealing the said tweets, a message in place was seen, which states- “This tweet from @pbhushan1 has been withheld in IN in response to a legal demand.” 

The next hearing of the matter is on 5th August 2020. 

The Problem with Twitter’s Actions 

Twitter’s rules on withholding content, explains that the above-mentioned message displays when Twitter is “compelled to withhold the original tweet in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order.”

What is pertinent to mention here is that the court order from the first hearing gives no direction to Twitter to take down the content. The suggestion given by Justice Mishra to take down the tweets post the initiation of suo moto contempt proceeding is itself flawed. 

The Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, interpreted Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and Rule 3 of the Intermediary Liability Rules, 2011. It held that an online intermediary is required to expeditiously remove or disable access to challenged material only after a court order is passed directing it to remove such content. Applying Principle 2 of the Manila Principles, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 79 did not render intermediaries liable for illegal content unless they failed to comply with a court order. Thus, they are not required to act on a mere request made by a private party.

However, in Prashant Bhushan’s case, the order did not state any such thing. The need for an order is imperative, and such has to be followed in a strict sense. This is done to maintain a balance between free speech and its overreach on the internet. Substitution of this rule with a mere suggestion given by a Judge during a proceeding is not appreciated.

What is the Liability of intermediary in India

Section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 defines an intermediary concerning electronic records as-

“any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record.”

Before the 2008 amendment to the IT Act, 2000, the intermediaries were held responsible for almost all the illegal or unlawful acts with no or insignificant amount of immunity. It was only after the Bazee.com case that limits the liability of intermediaries for user-generated content were placed. 

Section 79 of the IT act provides for exemption from liability. This is done in case information or data by a third party is made available or hosted by the intermediary. The 2008 amendment clarifies the liability of these intermediaries. Now the involvement of an intermediary should be only in providing access to or hosting the content of the third party on its platform. It should not in any way:

  • Initiate the transmission; or 
  • Select the receiver; or 
  • Modify the information by the third party during transmission. 

Also, all through this while, the intermediary should observe due diligence in performing its functions

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011 

These rules explain the provisions related to intermediaries in a better way. The Rules provide for a privately-administered takedown mechanism. Under this mechanism, once an intermediary receives information that unlawful material has been hosted, displayed, uploaded, modified, published, transmitted, updated, or shared on its platform, it is required to act within thirty-six hours to remove such information. Intermediaries also have the right to end access or usage rights of users who fail to follow the rules and regulations. 

Author’s Note

The action taken by Twitter is highly condemned and should not be treated as a precedent for the future. This is because it raises questions on freedom of speech on the internet and the moderation of content on platforms like Twitter. With the development of technology and cyberspace, one of the earliest problems associated with the cyber world was related to the liability of internet intermediaries or online intermediaries, especially for secondary acts like in case of content written or activities undertaken by third parties. Over the years, the law has evolved to grant them protection and put in place a proper takedown mechanism. 

Moreover, these intermediaries have a central role to play in modern times. They need to maintain a balance between rights on the internet and not act as a puppet in the hands of judicial administration. Thus, they need to follow the proper mechanism and withhold content only after receiving a court order. 


Libertatem.in is now on Telegram. Follow us for regular legal updates and judgments from the court. Follow us on Google News, InstagramLinkedInFacebook & Twitter. You can also subscribe to our Weekly Email Updates. You can also contribute stories like this and help us spread awareness for a better society. Submit Your Post Now.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest News

US Court Orders Iran To Pay $1.4 BN in Damages To Missing Former FBI Agent’s Family

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ordered Iran to pay in total $1.45 bn to the Levinson family in punitive...

Onus on Petitioner To Show Unassailable Facts: Delhi High Court

In the case of Rhythm Jain v National Testing Agency, the Delhi High Court mentioned that in such petitions the onus to prove the facts...

Under-Trial/Convicted Persons Do Not Have Absolute Right To Parole in Light of Coronavirus : Bombay High Court

An important judgment was given by the Division Bench of the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court concerning the constitutionality of Rule 19 of...

Madhya Pradesh High Court Asks State To File Reply To Examine Whether Privacy Rights of an Individual Can Be Violated by Issuing an Executive...

A Writ Petition was instituted by an individual for violation of his fundamental rights by the State before the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The...

Bombay High Court Allows Export of Pending Consignment of Onions in Respect of Which Shipping Bills Have Been Generated Before Notification of the Ban

A writ petition challenging the notification dated 14th September 2020 to ban the export of onions was filed by the Exporters Association before the...

Delhi HC: Mens Rea Essential Before Passing an Order U/S 14b of EPF Act

  In the matter of M/s Durable Doors and Windows v APFC, Gurugram, the bench allowed the Petitioner's appeal holding that mens rea is an...

Delhi HC: Language of Statement and Testimony of Complainant Need Not Be Identical

A single-judge bench of J. Vibhu Bakhru of the Delhi High Court upheld the accused's conviction in Kailash @ Balli v State. The bench...

COVID Results Shall Be Conveyed To the Person Within 24 Hours: Delhi High Court

The order has come in a writ petition moved by Rakesh Malhotra. The Petitioner herein seeks to ramp up testing facilities in Delhi.   Facts of...

Delhi High Court Sets Aside the Order of the Trial Court in the Chief Secretary Assault Case

In the case of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal & Anr. V. State NCT of Delhi, Mr.Justice Suresh Kumar Kait has set aside the 24.07.2019 Order...

Delhi High Court Temporarily Restrains Vintage Moments’ Alcohol Sale in Case of Trademark Infringement

The manufacturers of the Alcohol Brand Magic Moments had filed a suit. The Delhi High Court has passed an order restraining the manufacturing, marketing,...

More Articles Like This

- Advertisement -